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The Young Athlete

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Skeletal Injuries

A sudden, violent collision with another player, an accident with sports equipment, or a severe fall can cause skeletal injuries in the growing athlete.

Fractures constitute 5% to 6% of all sports injuries. Most fractures occur in the arms and legs. Spine and skull fractures are rare.

More common, however, are stress fractures and ligament-bone disruptions that occur because of continuing overuse of a joint. The main symptom of a stress fracture is pain. Frequently, initial x-rays do not show any signs of a stress fracture and athletes are permitted to return to the same activities. As a result, the pain often returns or continues, but the athlete keeps playing. Stress fractures most often occur in the tibia (the larger leg bone below the knee), the fibula (the outer and thinner leg bone below the knee), and the foot.

Little League elbow can occur when a baseball pitcher's repetitive throwing puts too much pressure on the growth centers of the elbow bones. This painful condition results from overusing muscles and tendons or from an injury to the cartilage surfaces in the elbow.

In the growing athlete's musculoskeletal system, pain from repetitive motion may appear somewhere besides the actual site of the injury. For instance, a knee ache in a child or adolescent may actually be pain caused by an injury to the hip.

Last reviewed and updated: July 2007
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Copyright 2007 American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons